Robert Altman was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He had a Catholic
upbringing and education. He attended a military academy until he volunteered for service
After the war, Robert Altman went to work in Kansas City for the Calvin Company. There,
he developed his craft as a film maker. He took simple documentaries, employee training
films, and advertisements and used them to explore creative film techniques and innovative
story-telling ideas, while still bringing projects in on budget.
Robert Altman left for Hollywood in 1955. After several unheralded independent films,
he was given his first directorial break by Alfred Hitchcock. This lead to fairly steady
work directing in television, especially in action/adventure shows, such as Bonanza,
Maverick, and Whirlybirds. He directed the pilot for The Gallant Men, ABC's other war
series that premiered in 1962, that featured an infantry unit fighting in Italy, as seen
through the eyes of a war correspondent. "I was offered Gallant Men," says
Altman, but just thought that there was more to work with in Combat! I think it was
a well-done series. It was a think piece."
Altman lasted less than a season on Combat!
Though he only directed ten Combat! episodes, Altman takes credit for the
success of the series. He certainly helped establish the visual style of first-season Combat!
His use of hand-held cameras, cluttered foregrounds, a film-noir-like use of light and
shadow, and a passion for shots obscured by dust and smoke became standard in the series.
After the departure of producer Robert Blees, Altman was briefly producer of the show; but
his volatile temper and disagreements with the front office led to his dismissal before
the end of the first season. His contributions to the show, however, remained: he was
responsible for the promotion of Hanley to Lieutenant and for first bringing Dick Peabody
to the series.
His strength as a director is his ability to bring out great performances in his actors
and in creating striking visuals. But his view of Combat! and of men in war was
oppressive; he presented Saunders as the perpetual victim, the ultimate martyr to war,
with no control over his own destiny. The true character of the show, and of Sergeant
Saunders, developed under other hands. Ultimately, the show benefited by his departure.
Altman went on to success on the big screen, directing such classics as "M*A*S*H," "Nashville," and "The Player," and such lesser
lights as "Popeye" and "Ready To Wear" and the Academy
Award-nominated "Gosford Park."
He directed Jennifer Jason Leigh (Vic Morrow's daughter) in "Kansas City" and "Short Cuts."
For further information about Robert Altman's Combat! days, read the
fascinating biography "Robert Altman:
Jumping Off The Cliff." This unabashed love-letter to Robert Altman has a chapter
devoted to the series, along with a complete history of this Hollywood director.
References to Combat! regulars are scattered throughout the book. It also
includes comments from Dick Peabody and Rick Jason. Though be careful using about using
this book for a reference; it includes many errors about Combat!
Combat! episodes that Altman directed:
Books about Robert Altman (links take you to sites where you can buy the book):